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New Mexico, Land of Windchantment

by Robert Foster, NMSU

New Mexico, nicknamed the Land of Enchantment, is rapidly becoming the “Land of Windchantment.” There is a veritable wind land rush taking place in the state, with a plethora of wind developers signing wind power leases with ranchers across the eastern plains.

New Mexico is ranked 12th nationally in terms of wind energy potential, with about 50,000 megawatts (MW) of identified resource according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). By coincidence, the state is also ranked 12th in the U.S. for wind farm installations, with a total of 497 MW of installed capacity. Edison Mission Group (EMG) is now in the process of developing the 100-MW High Lonesome Mesa Wind Farm in eastern New Mexico using Clipper turbines.

New Mexico has the highest per capita wind energy usage of any state in the country, and Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) has one of the highest percentages of wind grid penetration of any utility, with about four percent of its annual energy production coming from wind. And at times, as much as 20 percent of the load is carried by wind when it’s really blowing. Besides the clean power benefits, the other big advantage of wind power is that it does not require water for power generation, which for the arid Southwest is always a critical issue.

There are more than two dozen active wind developers in New Mexico. The existing windfarms were developed by Cielo Wind Power, a subsidiary of Texas Wind Power,FPL Energy, Babcock and Brown and Padoma Wind Power, with power from wind being sold to Xcel Energy, Arizona Public Service and PNM.

Windy land in New Mexico is becoming a highly sought after commodity as wind developers sign leases with hundreds of landowners. Shell Wind Energy and First Windhave already signed agreements with landowners in central New Mexico near Corona.

Energy Resources has purchased large tracts of land near Santa Rosa. GreenHunter Wind Energy and Penn Real Estate have also signed wind leases. Other companies active with New Mexico wind energy exploration and development include Acciona,Clipper, enXco, DKRW/Carbon Neutral, GEC, Gold Pack Power, Iberdrola, Invenergy,Horizon Wind Energy and Taos Wind Power.

The New Mexico State University Institute for Energy and the Environment is monitoring the wind resource on lands owned by the University, as well as NASA and Fort Bliss.

New Mexicans have, so far, looked favorably on wind power development as it is clean power, provides local jobs and increases the tax base. New Mexico ranchers already receive about US $1.8 million/year for leasing their lands to existing wind farms. In general, ranchers have had very few issues with placing wind turbines on their land because the footprint of the wind farm including roads takes up only about 10 percent of the total land area leaving most of the ranch available for livestock or crops.

The main concern that ranchers have expressed relates to the restoration of any land that is disturbed during the construction of the wind farm and the request that service roads and noxious weeds be kept to a minimum.

Apparently, New Mexico cows like wind turbines as they can often be found lining up for the only shade available on the plains from the wind turbine towers to escape the summer heat.

Some New Mexico landowners have grouped together for a stronger negotiating position with wind developers, an example being the Corona Landowners Association (South and North groups), which hold together hundreds of thousands of acres. Most New Mexicans realize the importance of developing clean renewable energy resources and the need for energy independence.

Transmission Stands in the Way

Electric transmission is the greatest challenge for wind farm development in the Southwest and major transmission development will be required in order to fully tap New Mexico’s wind power potential.

New Mexico Governor Richardson has been very supportive of new wind farm development and in building new transmission to serve the power markets. To this end, last year the state created the Renewable Energy Transmission Authority (RETA) to help facilitate expansion of the transmission grid in the state for development of wind and other renewable resources.

RETA has begun to explore several opportunities and specific proposals. There are two large-scale transmission proposals under consideration: SunZia Southwest Transmission and the High Plains Express Transmission; both of which are designed to bring power to the large urban markets in Phoenix and Los Angeles.

Since about half of New Mexican land is owned by the federal government, agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) often play a key role when it comes to wind farm and transmission development.

There are over 8,000 MW of proposed wind projects in New Mexico that have been submitted for transmission planning to PNM. Of course, not all of these proposals will bear fruit, but if only a quarter are successful, that represents over 2,000 MW of new wind generation the will be coming online during the next decade.

To put this in perspective, PNM currently has about 2,300 MW of total electric generation capacity. The amount of wind and other renewable generation needed to meet New Mexico’s Renewable Portfolio Standard is modest, as there are only 2 million New Mexicans. Most of New Mexico wind power is destined for the California and Arizona markets to help these states meet their Renewable Portfolio requirements.

The Aragonne Mesa windfarm near Vaughn, already sells its power to Arizona. The proposed High Lonesome Mesa will do the same. Presently, New Mexico exports about half of its coal-powered electricity out of state, so exporting wind power is the next logical step.

New Mexico, the “Land of Windchantment,” will see thousands of MW of new windfarms built over the next couple of decades, but the rate of development will be dependent on how fast new transmission is constructed.

Robert Foster is a Program Manager for the Institute for Energy and Environment and an Associate Director in the College of Agriculture at New Mexico State University, where he has worked for 20 years. He has worked in over 30 countries with USAID, World Bank, DOE, NREL, NSF, NASA, Sandia Labs, and others. He has contributed to the development of wind energy projects in Brazil, Chile, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Mexico and the U.S. Mr. Foster is a Mechanical Engineering graduate from the University of Texas at Austin, and also holds a MBA from NMSU. He enjoys harnessing wind power with his sailboat.

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